Interim police chief apologizes for homeless video

AP News
Posted: Apr 26, 2013 1:51 AM

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle's new interim police chief apologized Thursday for participating in a 1986 Seattle police training video that "made light of homelessness."

The video shows some officers dressed as homeless people under a viaduct. Set to the tune of "Under The Boardwalk," the footage shows the "homeless" drinking, breaking into cars and being rousted by police as they sing the altered lyrics of "Under The Viaduct."

Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, who will take over as interim chief when Chief John Diaz retires at the end of May, appears in the video as a wine-drinking homeless man.

Pugel apologized, both in writing and at a news conference Thursday evening.

"In 1986 I was one of the participants in an official Seattle Police Department Training video that made light of homelessness," he said in a statement. "I regret my participation and have professionally apologized for my role in it. I do so now publicly. I am truly sorry."

Facing TV cameras and reporters, he called the conduct "immature" and added, "I am deeply sorry for it — but I own it."

"Most importantly I apologize to all those people I serve," he said.

The video embarrassment comes as the police department faces a court-overseen monitoring plan to address the use of force by officers. The department has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that requires an overhaul of supervision, training and reporting of uses of force.

The lyrics include the lines, "Under the viaduct, we'll be drinking our booze, under the viaduct, our sores continue to ooze," as well as, "Under the viaduct, down by the bay, we'll be drinking our T-Bird, all through the day."

The skit "was created in a misguided attempt at humor and added to the end of a training video," the department said in a disclaimer that precedes the video on a department website.

"Even by 1980s standards, the Seattle Police Department considered the video to be insensitive and inappropriate," Pugel said in his statement. "All copies were ordered destroyed. A master copy was retained in our video unit."

Video participants were reprimanded by then-Chief Patrick Fitzsimons, Pugel said.

"We are releasing this video today not because we were asked to do so, but because I feel it is important to show where this department has been and where it is going," he added.

The 30-year department veteran was selected as interim chief earlier this month by Mayor Mike McGinn after Diaz announced he planned to retire. Pugel said he mentioned the video when the mayor asked whether any problems might crop up.

The officer said he has also discussed the video with Diaz, several Seattle-based homeless advocacy organizations and Merrick Bobb, the court-appointed monitor who is overseeing police reforms sought by the Justice Department.

A DOJ report found Seattle officers were too quick to reach for weapons such as flashlights and batons, even when arresting people for minor offenses, and that when Seattle police used force, they did so unconstitutionally about 20 percent of the time.

"I believe in social justice," Pugel's statement said. "I have a track record that mirrors this." He added that he spent many hours doing volunteer work.

"As a police department, we have much work to do to strengthen our relationships in the community. Sometimes that means addressing an ugly piece of our history head on."